The Deal of a Lifetime: Register for TPU and get your own personal coach

The Deal of a Lifetime: Register for TPU and get your own personal coach

Author: Sheryl Collmer | Media Coordinator


As one of the first self-supported multi-day stage races in America, Trans-Pecos Ultra has sweetened the pot for 2017, offering free coaching from veteran stage runners with every registration. Few American runners have experience in this racing format but our coaches are all veterans of TPU.

Of the four coaches, Cheryl Tulkoff (Austin, Texas) is the only female, and the second-place finisher in the inaugural 2015 event. She is currently coaching three 2017 registered TPU runners.

Cheryl is a long-time ultra runner and a 3:15 Boston Marathon finisher. She has been certified as a personal trainer and in wilderness first aid, and has the added distinction of running long on a vegan diet.

Stage racing is far more accessible than people think, says Cheryl. For most people, it’s a series of run/hike intervals through the day, then a period of rest and recovery in the evening. Most fit hikers could do the TPU quite handily. Seven days sounds intimidating, but you are just hiking and running each day; no energy has to be spent on laundry, cooking, cleaning and paperwork… all those things that use up our extra energy at home.

Cheryl is advising her trainees to practice weighted running with their selected packs, alternated with power-hiking. She’s not a huge proponent of heavy mileage training for a multi-day event, though she does advise back-to-back long runs on the weekends. Rather than rack up too much extra volume in miles, though, she prefers using available time for strengthening the climbing muscles and ankles.

The average pack, with a day’s supply of water onboard, weighs around 20 pounds. That amount of weight significantly alters posture, stride and running mechanics. That’s why Cheryl advises logging lots of time on your feet wearing a loaded pack, whether running or hiking. Since speed isn’t the top priority for most people doing a stage race, Cheryl emphasizes training by time duration.

“…stage racing is an
eating and drinking contest.”

In addition to running/hiking strategies, Cheryl covers gear and nutrition with her trainees. Since the week’s food is usually the heaviest item in the runner’s pack, clever choices of food can make a huge difference to the runner’s stamina. For anyone with specialized nutrition needs, vegan Cheryl would have some tried-and-true strategies not easily found elsewhere.

In the end, Cheryl kids, “stage racing is an eating and drinking contest.”

Well… it might be a little more complex than that, but we get the idea. The ordinary mortal can complete a multi-day stage race, with a bit of attention to training and nutrition, the specialties of our TPU coaches.

Are you piqued? Find out more about the beautiful land of the Big Bend, multi-day stage racing and the unique opportunity to be coached into this spectacular race. Click here for more information on the TPU Coaching Program and the four coaches available or call race director Chris Herrera at 432.294.5284.

Note: The all-inclusive TPU Ultimate Big Bend Adventure has a registration ticket of $2,250. With a deposit of $500 to secure your spot, you receive a month of personalized coaching support. If you pay in full upon registration, you receive three months coaching.

Stage Racing Backpacks

Stage Racing Backpacks

NEW: Check out the TPUstore for all your stage racing and ultra running needs – Click here!!

Choosing a pack is a series of trade-offs between utility and weight, with you as the final judge.  Below are three important factors to consider as you try on various models.

  • Considering that you will carry it for 170 miles during TPU, your pack may be the most consequential decision you make (after deciding to sign up for this crazy adventure!)  The lighter your pack is and the more comfortably it fits to your spine, the more you will enjoy the ride.
  • How does the pack ride? Frame or frame-less?  Weight-transferring hip belt or simple webbing straps?  Vest front or padded shoulder straps?
  • Size. There is only so small you can go with your pack… you have to be able to carry your sleeping bag, a bare minimum of 14,000 calories of food, incidentals, and water. Past TPU runners have not gone below 20-liter capacity.

Stage racing backpacks: A little more detail…

In a survey of past TPU runners, we found that many packed all the way down to a 20-liter pack.  This requires tremendous discipline (or lots of practice), but the advantage of a light, small pack can’t be overemphasized!  Bear in mind, however, that if your pack is so full that you have to strap your sleeping bag to the exterior, you’ve just added a bit of bounce to your pack. However, re-packing as you eat some food and complete the 6 stage race can help to overcome this issue.

While everyone’s different, a long-distance rule-of-thumb is that you only carry 10% of your body weight on your back.  So a 150-pound man would carry a maximum of 15 pounds.  With a week’s food, a sleeping bag, safety gear and the pack itself, this can be a colossally difficult standard, but it’s a good starting point.  Food alone might weigh 10-12 pounds at the beginning of the week (more about food in a later post) so finding ways to minimize weight elsewhere is important.

In general, you’re going to want the lightest pack possible that is still functional and offers a certain degree of comfort! The lightest packs have almost no structure: no frame, hip-belt or any way of transferring weight off your shoulders. They are simply bags with straps.  Alternatively, you can get an internal frame pack that will transfer up to 70% of the weight to your hips.  Something in-between would be a frame-less pack with pods that give form to the pack and thus can transfer some weight off your shoulders.

A hip-belt can relieve your upper body but it adds weight to the pack and can be an additional chafing point, especially with the bounce of running.  Frame packs may work better for those planning to mostly hike TPU.

The frame-less packs that mount as vests with wide front panels, hug the body and keep the load closer to your center of gravity, also prevent bouncing and chafing. These bags also have the added feature of water bottle holders in front, making them easier to refill than hydration bladders.  Some runners will carry both, with the bladder for backup – but it’s not necessary.

Here are a few representative packs to show you the sort of choices you have:


RaidLight Olmo Ultra Raid Desert 20L + 4L Front Pack – Avg price, $179

Especially designed for stage races, the new Ultra Raid Desert 20L bag allows you to take all the necessary equipment with you for races. At 1 lb. 8 oz. ergonomically integrated back and shoulder straps, bottle pockets on vest front, insulated bladder sleeve, multiple small pockets, designed specifically for multi-day events like Trans-Pecos Ultra. This pack remains one of the most common among all TPU participants. Also available in 30L without front pouch – See more and order now in the TPUstore! 

WAA Ultra Equipment UltraBag 20L+ 4L Pouch (optional) – Avg price, $215

Designed by the experts of ultra-endurance races, the UltraBag was designed and built to meet the needs of the most demanding races like the Marathon des Sables or the most intense multi day FKT attempts. At 1 lb. 5 oz bag only, with optional bottle holders (1.5 oz each) and front pocket (1.5 oz), wide vest-type straps, rectangular shape, 20-liter capacity, designed specifically for Marathon des Sables and now a great option for Trans-Pecos Ultra. Order now in the TPUstore! 

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 – Avg price, $115 (Amazon)

Providing all the features and capacity you need and nothing more, the Fastpack 20 is a streamlined pack that will get you there and get it done. At 1 lb. 3 oz. vest front with pockets for water bottles/maps/camera, rear stuff pocket, roll-top closure, water-resistant, 20-liter capacity.  This pack was worn by TPU2015 2nd place finisher, and Coach Cheryl Tulkoff.



Osprey Talon 22L – Avg price, $75 (Amazon)

With an updated AirScape™ backpanel, a continuous hipbelt wrap for incredible comfort and a suspension system that stabilized loads for dynamic activities, the Talon 22 remains the most versatile day hiking pack ever built. At 1 lb. 7 oz.  External sleeve for easy access to hydration bladder, wide hip belt to transfer some weight off shoulders, mesh back panel for cooling.  The Tempest 20 is a female-specific alternative to the Talon. Great for those hiking TPU. 

NEW: Check out the TPUstore for all your stage racing and ultra running needs – Click here!!

-Author Notes: Sheryl Colmer was a volunteer at TPU2016 and now writes about all things Big Bend, stage racing, and TPU!


Community Events Share A Story of Self-Discovery in Big Bend

Community Events Share A Story of Self-Discovery in Big Bend

DALLAS, Tex. – What is it like to complete a marathon a day for four consecutive days, followed by a 50 miler over 34 hours, then finish off the week with a 10k?

These were some of the questions that 25 runners from the Dallas area turned up to ask on Friday, Feb. 5 at the Dallas REI store, located just off I75 near downtown Dallas. Runners and would-be runners gathered to hear about stage races like Trans-Pecos Ultra (TPU), from race director Chris Herrera and his tribe.

After a brief welcome and introduction into the exciting world of international ultra stage races, Herrera introduced the winner of the 1st annual Trans-Pecos Ultra, Thomas Mullins.

Mullins, a Dallas native and frequent participant in ultra running events around the United States picked up his bright yellow pack, crammed full of gear and dropped it on the table.

“This is what I carried for the full seven days of the race,” he said, stripping off his sweatshirt, to just a pair of shorts and shirt. “And this is what I wore.” Mullins won last year’s event with a time of 37hr 58mins over the equivalent of 6 marathons, or 163 mile course that makes up the Trans-Pecos Ultra. He unpacked his backpack, pulling out carefully measured bags of foodstuffs, extra socks, stuff-sack with a light sleeping bag and down jacket.

The race rules stipulate, the event audience learned, that each runner must carry his own gear and food for the entire race. That means, everything you’ll need for the seven day journey in the Big Bend State Park is carried from day one through day seven.

Audience members watched intently as Mullins explained how he carefully counted each calorie he would need throughout the race, commenting that you become incredibly aware of your food and fuel needs in prepping for an event like TPU. He measured his required fuel down to how many dates he would eat during each stage, knowing exactly how many calories and grams of sugar each tiny bit of fruit would give him.

Questions came about how much water was carried (Mullins carried two 16oz water bottles on his pack and refilled at each checkpoint, located along the course six miles apart): How and where to use the bathroom (cat holes are provided at each checkpoint, permanent toilets at camp); Where do you sleep at night (the race provides 10-person tepee tents and a campground at the end of each stage).

Mullins passed around his gear bag to allow everyone to feel its weight; about 20lbs. As he unpacked it, he explained each element, why it was important and how he packed it. Then he showed off the pair of shoes he’d worn.

Thomas Mullins demonstrates how he packed for the Trans-Pecos Ultra.
Thomas Mullins demonstrates how he packed for Trans-Pecos Ultra during a talk at REI Dallas.

Making a cardinal sin for runners, he’d purchased them new just before the race. But they served him well; he had no blisters during the race, but the tough terrain took their toll on the shoes.

“I haven’t worn these since the last stage of the race,” he said as he passed them to the audience. With tears along the fabric sides and layered in dirt and sweat, the shoes looked like they’d been used for years, not just seven days. But with 163+ miles of hard trails and desert running, the lightweight runners were done.

One audience member asked Mullins what the hardest part of the race was. With obvious emotion, he said “Saying goodbye.” Then he was silent (obviously gathering his thoughts).

He then continued, and it was clear that among several of the the highlights of this unique adventure, was the camaraderie he felt with the other runners (nine started the race with six finishing), the volunteers and race director who all made the event possible.

These deep interpersonal connections are what stood out as unique to TPU compared to other ultra marathons and adventure races he had done in the past.

Herrera then introduced Micah Ferrell, a native of Alpine, Texas who had volunteered last minute to help with the race. An endurance runner herself, she gave the audience a volunteers’ perspective of the event.

Actually encompassing ten days in total, Trans-Pecos Ultra is an event not just for ultra runners seeking to test themselves in a new kind of race, but an event for volunteers to discover Big Bend and connect closely with runners and each other.

Micah Ferrell tells audience members about her volunteer experience with Trans-pecos Ultra.
Micah Ferrell tells audience members about her volunteer experience with Trans-Pecos Ultra.

Ferrell related her story of helping with camp set up each night, working the various checkpoints throughout each stage. running just ahead of the participants to mark the trail, and more.

“My experience as a volunteer went beyond helping mark courses and cheering participants on the course. Trans-Pecos Ultra offered me a chance to stretch my limits as a person and ask the question, ‘what more can I give?’; a question that has filtered into my life outside of the desert.”

Overall, she, like Mullins, related a story of adventure. Both described what it was like to share a tent with strangers who have now become lifelong friends. Both participants and volunteers, it seemed, pushed beyond perceived limits to find a new self on the other side.

Volunteering again for the 2016 event, Ferrell has become TPU’s year-long marketing and social media coordinator. Though she joined in last minute last year, she has become a convert to the insane joy of multi-stage racing.

“We don’t say that Trans-Pecos Ultra is a race,” said Herrera. “Its an adventure – an open invitation for self-discovery in Big Bend.”

The level of camaraderie that TPU inspires was apparent as the event officially ended. Runners and would-be runners with experience at every distance from a 5k up through to 50mi ultras, gathered around to browse the photo book of the 2015 event, and talk to Chris, Thomas, Micah and Event Coordinator April McAnally, each of whom had been part of the inaugural event.

More questions about gear, about volunteering, about every tiny aspect of gear and food demonstrated an eagerness to understand what makes someone take off from work and family to spend ten days total and seven days out in the Chihuahuan Desert within the vast terrain of Texas’s Big Bend State Park.

Mullins summed it up when he said that, unlike many ultra-marathon events where runners complete the same loop multiple times, Trans-Pecos Ultra gave you new terrain, new perspectives, new challenges, and opportunities with every step. – Words by Rich Cook

Want to attend an upcoming event? – See Event Schedule

Keeping Cool to Avoid Heat Injury

Keeping Cool to Avoid Heat Injury

Endurance & Ultra Marathon Blog Post

Author: Dr. Aaron Reilly, DO | Medical Director


Heat injury is a constant looming threat in the desert environment of the Southwest. The best way to combat heat injury is to be aware of how your body responds to heat, and to prepare well in advance.


The equation is simple: heat loss has to equal heat generation. General metabolic processes in the body generate heat, however with intense physical activity heat production can be up to 20x greater. Our bodies lose heat by two primary mechanisms: evaporation (heat liberation by liquid changing into a vapor), and radiation (heat transfer from a warm object into cooler air).


Evaporation occurs by sweating, and radiation occurs by shunting blood from the body’s core out to the skin. Under normal conditions, these mechanisms work quite well, however there are several environmental and individual factors that can reduce heat loss and lead to heat accumulation.


The environmental factors that affect heat loss are related to humidity and temperature. As humidity reaches 100%, sweat evaporation is impaired as the air has “no room” to accept vaporized sweat molecules. In regards to radiation, as the ambient temperature gets closer to body temperature (~35°C/95°F), the heat transfer gradient equalizes. Therefore, when the environmental temperatures increases above body temperature, the heat gradient reverses and favors heat transfer to the body.


There are a multitude of individual factors that lead to heat accumulation. Skin conditions that impair the body’s ability to sweat increase the risk of heat injury. In addition, anything that decreases the body’s ability to shunt blood to the skin, such as poor overall fitness, certain medications, heart conditions, and dehydration, can impair heat loss. Even substances such as performance enhancers, caffeine, and psychiatric medications can increase metabolic heat production.

Ultimately, the biggest individual risk factor for heat injury is a previous episode.

So what is the best way to prevent heat injury? Prepare well in advance. It is well established that heat acclimation training helps both reduce heat injury and increase performance in a hot environment.


A general program is to perform moderate exercise in an environment that mimics the race locale, 90 minutes per day for 14 days. This has been shown to increase both sweating and shunting efficiency, and also develops heat shock proteins, which protects your body against heat injury.


Additional practices to reduce the risk of heat injury during exercise include having a safe hydration plan (see blog post on Staying Hydrated, the safe way), regulating exercise intensity, and periodic rest in the shade as needed. Clothing that protects from solar radiation or using damp cloths can also help keep you cool.


In summary, prepare in advance for exercise in the heat by performing heat training. Stay adequately hydrated, and take rests as needed to allow the body to cool. Make sure to document any previous history of heat injury, as well as all of your medications on your medical form so that we can effectively counsel you in regards to your risk.


Have thoughts? Leave a comment below or feel free to email with any questions.

Safe Hydration for Ultra Marathon and Endurance Running

Safe Hydration for Ultra Marathon and Endurance Running

Staying Hydrated – The Safe Way

Author: Dr. Aaron Reilly, DO | Medical Director


When it comes to endurance events, having a hydration plan is one of the most important strategies to solidify. Most racers are aware that not maintaining adequate fluid intake during the race can lead to dehydration, and dehydration is bad. What a lot of racers aren’t aware of is that there are complications of over consuming fluids as well, which range from uncomfortable to potentially fatal.


Most runners have experienced “slosh stomach” – the feeling of a full stomach, nausea, bloating, and sometimes vomiting that occurs while drinking fluids during a run. A more serious complication of over-hydration is known as “water intoxication”, or exercise associated hyponatremia. This is caused by dilution of the sodium in the blood due to free water retention.


In regards to hydration, maintaining the zone between dehydration and over-hydration can be difficult. Several strategies to prevent dehydration include monitoring frequency of urination, urine color, and drinking on a set schedule. The problem with all of these techniques is that they really aren’t reliable and can lead to over-hydration. This is because prolonged exertion causes changes in the way that the body normally handles fluid management and urine concentration. It does this by increasing a specific hormone, anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which triggers the kidneys to retain water. This decreases urination, and makes the urine darker and more concentrated. Therefore, it is possible to have highly concentrated urine and decreased urination and actually be over-hydrated.


While it is common to attempt to prevent water intoxication by consuming electrolyte tablets, there is no data to show that this method is effective. In fact, there is some evidence to shows that high doses of sodium supplementation actually increases thirst, which in turn increases the amount of fluid intake. Since prolonged exertion, among other factors, triggers ADH, the kidneys retain more free water, and may actually increase the risk of hyponatremia. Electrolyte tables can also decrease gastric motility, which means that more fluid will remain in the stomach and may lead to slosh stomach.


So what is the best approach? The answer is it depends. There are many factors that affect sodium loss and fluid retention. My advice is to stay consistent. If you choose to use electrolyte supplements, make sure to train with them. Also, make sure to use the same brand and the same amount during the race that you train with, as different brands will vary drastically on the contents of the supplement. Drinking to thirst is the first step – if you are thirsty, drink up. In addition, pay attention to your urine, but not in the traditional sense. If you are drinking to thirst, but have very dark urine or decreased urine, a trial of modestly increasing fluid intake is reasonable. If this does not lead to increased urination, then the issue is probably less related to dehydration and more related to ADH. A good strategy in this case is to take a 10-20 minute rest (or until you are able to urinate). Pausing from exertion will often lead to decreased ADH and increased urination.


In summary, it can be difficult to maintain the balance between dehydration and over-hydration. The keys are training how you plan to race, drinking to thirst with minimal deviations, and taking urination breaks will often let you know how your body is doing. Pay attention to your hydration and try to keep things consistent, and you will be able to maintain a suitable equilibrium.